Happy 80th Birthday to Larry O’Brien!

June 10th, 2014


July 15, 2013 – Larry O’Brien led the Glenn Miller Orchestra from 1981-83, then again from 1988-2010. I spent many years sitting next to him on the bus. He was music history—oh, the stories he could tell! I never saw him not ‘bring it’ when the lights went up. Nothing could stop him. During the “Here We Go Again” sessions, he broke his arm but still led the band on the record date and played beautifully on his solo, “When You Wish upon a Star.” In Japan, he got hit by a car on his afternoon run and mentioned it in passing during the sound check. He was mugged in a park in South America while taking photos, barely let us know. In the late ‘80s, Larry’s father died during the annual Japan tour. He and his mother had decided in advance that he would not come home from overseas. That night, he played “Danny Boy”—with that signature tone and long-held breath (no circular breathing for Larry-san)–as if it were another great day to wow the crowd. I didn’t know him in 1961 when the Dorsey band stole him from the Miller band because, as Frank Sinatra said, Larry was the guy who could play Tommy Dorsey’s solos after Tommy died. I didn’t know him when he led Frank Sinatra Jr.’s “little band” for 14 years (which he loved). I didn’t know him when he played with all those famous names. But I did see him play “Danny Boy” (his showcase piece) in a poorly-lit gymnasium–with green plastic on the floor and fold-up chairs–as if it were Carnegie Hall. The lessons, the lessons.

About Larry O’Brien
“Larry O’Brien, my conductor since 1967, plays one of the finest trombones that I have ever heard. He was very recently highly complimented in that respect at the Rainbow Grill in New York City when, at the end of one of our shows, my father stepped to the stage and announced to the audience that after many years of listening to the great sound of Tommy Dorsey he has once again found someone whom he truly considers to be of equal stature”: Frank Sinatra, Jr. – Spice – liner notes

Paul Tanner

June 10th, 2014

tanner+February 6, 2013: Our beloved Dr. Paul Tanner died today. This is my favorite photo of him, hanging with the young players (drummer Greg Parnell, saxophonists James Guffey and Derryk Ludwig, trumpeter Jeff Wolbach). He played trombone for Glenn Miller during the civilian band years, played with Les Brown, Henry Mancini, Nelson Riddle, first trombone for American Broadcasting Company, Theramin on “Good Vibrations,” “Distinguished Professor” at UCLA, author, lecturer. Glenn Miller called him Lightnin’ because he was not fast, hailing from Skunk Hollow, KY. Glenn hired him when Paul was 17 and playing in a strip joint that Glenn and Helen visited after a gig. Always supportive of the modern Glenn Miller Orchestra, Paul was a national treasure.

Jan Tanner

June 10th, 2014

jantanner1This is Jan Tanner, Paul’s other half. Paul was the tall trombonist with slick dark hair in the original Glenn Miller band. Dr. Tanner taught music at UCLA, played Theramin on “Good Vibrations,” played first trombone in the ABC orchestra. Jan had a bit of a legacy, too. As a young woman with dark hair, she resembled Ava Gardner. Legend has it that Frank Sinatra walked onstage in a supper club and, spotting Jan sitting ringside, proceeded to sing the set to her. (Paul told me that. He also said one night the orchestra guys got the call around 3am to come to the studio. Playing through tunes, they finally figured out that Sinatra was in the booth serenading Ava.) Jan took great care of Paul. She was a tough cookie and a good manager. My Jan stories: 1–

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Montreal Jazz Festival – Battle of the Bands

September 28th, 2009

Montreal Jazz Festival – Battle of the BandsOn Sunday, July 6, 2008, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, directed by Larry O’Brien, and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, directed by Buddy Morrow, faced off in the Battle of the Bands to culminate the Montreal Jazz Festival. The rumble ensued at the Place des Arts and was witnessed by two sold-out houses totaling 6,000 energized fans.

Hard swinging TDO “boy singer” Walt Andrus (a role historically held by Frank Sinatra) delivered on “The Song is You” and “Sunny Side of the Street,” while GMO crooner Ryan Garfi flaunted his velvet chops on “Berkeley Square” and “Serenade in Blue.” Connie Brink for the TDO charmed with “The Very Thought of You.” GMO’s Julia Rich pranced with “Fascinatin’ Rhythm,” “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” and her own “If I Spoke French.” (Note: Julia was awarded an extra point for her dress.)

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Memories of Dick Gerhart

September 27th, 2009

On Friday, May 5, Dick Gerhart died in Boca Raton, Florida. Dick was leader of the Glenn Miller Orchestra from 1983 to 1988, road manager for 10 years before that, and sideman for his first 5 years with the band. During his time as a GMO sideman, he served under leaders Buddy De Franco, Peanuts Hucko, Buddy Morrow, Jimmy Henderson, and Larry O’Brien. Dick had a fat tenor saxophone sound and they called him “Zoot,” after Zoot Sims.

Dick hired me as girl singer for the Glenn Miller Orchestra in 1985. I was a schoolteacher in Chattanooga, TN, and I still remember the night he called. It was late, time for school teachers to be in bed. When I boarded the GMO bus in Nashville after my first gig with the band at the Opryland Hotel, Dick saw the fear in my mother’s eyes. As Joe Francis sang to my baby nephew Matthew (now 21), Dick reassured my mother and promised to take care of me.

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